Legendary Australian Artist – Albert Namatjira
The Art Centre
Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre is proudly Aboriginal owned and directed. It is the home of the Namatjira watercolour artists. The Art Centre was established by Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation and started operating in 2004, as a not-for-profit Art Centre to provide a place for Arrernte Artists to come together to paint, share and learn new techniques and ideas. The Art Centre is strongly committed to improving economic participation of Aboriginal people and maintaining cultural heritage.
Iltja Ntjarra has a special focus on supporting the ‘Hermannsburg School’ style watercolour artists, who continue to paint in the tradition of their grandfather and relative, Albert Namatjira, arguably one of Australia’s most famous artists of the 20th century. Albert Namatjira taught his children to follow in his unique style, who have since passed this knowledge on to their children, which has resonated in a legacy of watercolour artists in the Central Desert region. By continuing his legacy, these artists sustain an important piece of living history.
Iltja Ntjarra is proud of its ethical work practices and aims to return the greatest possible percentage of sales to the artist.
In June 2016, Iltja Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation (ICN 8426) was newly incorporated by the Arrernte Artists associated with the Art Centre and in August 2016, the Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation transferred the not-for-profit Art Centre business to Iltja Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation.
Albert Namatjira is one of Australia’s great artists, and perhaps the best known Aboriginal painter. His western style landscapes – different to traditional Aboriginal art, made him famous. Fame led to Albert and his wife becoming the first Aborigines to be granted Australian citizenship. It was a significant achievement, because at this time Aborigines had few rights. He wasn’t born Albert Namatjira. His parents called him Elea. But after moving to an Aboriginal mission (Hermannsburg) and adopting Christianity, they baptised and renamed their son.Mission life was nothing like the life Albert Namatjira’s people lived in the deserts of the Northern Territory. That was a lifestyle he knew little about, until he turned thirteen. At the age of thirteen Albert experienced an important Aboriginal ritual – initiation. As one of the Aranda group, he lived in the bush for six months and was taught traditional laws and customs by tribal elders. Work as a camel driver took Albert through the country he would later paint, the dreamtime places of his Aranda people.
As a citizen Albert Namatjira could now also buy alcohol. In keeping with Aboriginal custom, Albert’s friends expected him to share any alcohol he bought. But in doing this he broke white man’s laws. In 1958, police charged Albert with supplying alcohol to Aboriginal people. He denied the charge, but the court didn’t believe him. After two months in prison, Albert emerged a free, but broken man. He had lost his will to paint, and to live. Albert Namatjira died in 1959. He was just fifty-seven years old.
Albert Namatjira’s life and work have inspired other Aboriginal people to paint. Among them have been his children and grand-children. This great painter captured Australia’s heart in artwork and was praised around the world. His life showed white Australians the injustice of racist laws, and contributed to long overdue changes for his people.